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Ken Russell gorsewood



Lion's Mouth from 2000, a Gorsewood film.  Gorsewood takes its name from the gorse bushes round Ken Russell's house. He wants full control over his films, rather than having story and actors imposed on him as on films such as Prisoners of Honor, Mindbender and Dogboys, so is now filming from his own house.

Russell compares it to underground cinema, working with no budget and using family, friends and neighbours and remembers the freedom and fun he had at the beginning of his career with Amelia and the Angel.

Lion's Mouth from 2000 is "inspired by The rev. H. Davidson, the Rector of Stiffkey a.k.a. The Prostitutes Padre". A true story of a rector in the 1930´s who helped prostitutes but was defrocked for also helping himself to prostitutes. He preached from a barrel and ended up preaching to lions (similar to the bible story Daniel and the lion) and being savaged to death.

Diane Laurie in Ken Russell Lion's Mouth

When no actor seemed suitable for the role of the vicar, Russell realised the story-line was actually better without the role. So the film became a Citizen Kane like story of a journalist, played by Diana Laurie, visiting places and people, to reveal the truth behind the man.

Ken Russell Lions Mouth Diana Laurie   Ken Russell Lions Mouth Diana Laurie

This results in a number of set pieces, some of them beautiful- Diana Laurie in the church lit by hundreds of candles, the erotic Chinese dance, and the funeral with the women (the vocal group The Mediaeval Babes) dancing round the giant statue of a giant penis to the music I Want to be Happy.


And throughout there are lions- toys, paintings, lion-costumes, a tin of Lions Syrup.

And a story of Androcoles and the lion where Androcoles removes a thorn from the lion's paw.

 A typical Russell image of a person (or angel) silhouetted against a doorframe.

Lion's Mouth is a short 25 minute film. It was a test by Ken Russell to see if the camcorder could produce film of the quality he wanted. "I suppose it was that I had total control over it, because I haven’t really had that since my amateur days when I made Amelia and the Angel. One didn’t have to ask anyone anything, you know very often in feature films they give you a head roll in making the film then they take it away from you and cut it to ribbons afterwards so you can't win."

Lions Mouth Ken Russell

The initial scenes are weaker- it is not clear what the meaning of the barrel is, and it is not clear the lips that appear full screen are actually someone in the barrel. And the sound is at times crudely dubbed. I suspect the film was shot chronologically, as it improves consistently.  Russell at times uses the lack of resources to his advantage. The mortuary scene was filmed inside Ken's house and Diana Laurie pointed out that there was a row of CDs in the background. Russell told her it was her job to ensure no-one noticed the CDs. And in another scene the lion (a girl in a lion costume) falls down but the actors recover so well it was worth keeping.

Diana Laurie says:

So we had meetings then arranged for me to go down there and discuss the script and ideas. By this time I had looked at some costumes from the BBC and took some pictures. I showed him the pictures and he said he hated them, absolutely hated them. He wanted me to look more like I look in real life, which was great for me as it helped me to develop the character. She was quite eccentric and she would have found clothes in a thrift shop, she was fashion conscious but with her own style. That was great because I like interpreting. So what you see are my own clothes and he was delighted and really happy with that...

Ken Russell and Diana Laurie Lions Mouth  Ken Russell and Diana Laurie

rehearsal photos

Russell says the experiment convinced him the Camcorder was suitable for his next major project, The Fall of the Louse of Usher. The only failing was the quality of the sound, and Ken has since found a solution for that.

Ken Russell Lions Mouth  Lions Mouth Ken Russell 

Despite limited resources, the imagery is at times good.  The original title of the film was Leomania (Wikipedia gives this incorrectly as Leonmania).


Lions Mouth Diana Laurie   Lions Mouth Diana Laurie

Diana Laurie plays Josephine Heatherington, a journalist on the Skegness Journal with ambitions on Fleet Street. She is good in the role, walking imperially with her open umbrella always beside her. She says Russell asked her to act camply which she did though in some scenes she thought it was less appropriate.

Russell emphasises the distance of the journalist by having interviews cut from people to people, without any shots of interviewer and interviewee together- though it could also be the actors could not attend filming at the same time and Ken made use of it.

Lions Mouth Barry Lowe   Lions Mouth Ken Russell

Ken's adult children Victoria Russell and Alex Alien along with Barry Lowe (left, playing the gardener in the film) are credited as producers.

Russell plays Ken the Clown and is also credited with writing, photography, editing, production and direction.

Lions Mouth Mediaeval Babes   Lions Mouth Marie Finley Emma Millions

The Mediaeval Babes (left) are in the final funeral sequence.  Marie Finley and Emma Millions (right) would go on to work with Ken on The Fall of the Louse of Usher.  Other players are friends, family and neighbours.

The music includes:

  • Our Relations Suite (from the Laurel and Hardy film)
  • No No Nanette ("I Want to be Happy")
  • The Lion and Albert, Stanley Holloway
  • Sidney Torch, London Transport Suite
  • Sleigh Ride from Citizen Kane, Bernard Herrmann
  • Hitchcock's Family Plot main theme
  • Got to Dance My Way to Heaven, Jessie Matthews
  • In the Chinese Temple Garden, Albert Ketèlbey (Ken used his music in Dante's Inferno as well)
  • Limehouse Blues, Gertrude Lawrence

The cost of the rights to the music was a reason the film may not be given a public viewing.



The actual Rector of Stiffkey.


Ken Russell Lion's Mouth

best image

Lions Mouth Ken Russell

The church lit with natural light.

Lions Mouth Ken Russell  Lions Mouth Ken Russell

The statues from the cemetery used to represent the ghosts of dead prostitutes.  Fellini painted the eyes of his statues in Clowns, here Russell adds jewelry.

Ken Russell Lions Mouth

The images obviously stick in Ken's head- the photo above is from his previous wife Vivien's Dream Gardens from 1989.

best scene

The lion transforming into an erotic dance.

Ken Russell Lion's Mouth

The Limehouse Blues erotic Chinese dance.

Lions Mouth Ken Russell   Lions Mouth Ken Russell


The final scene of Diana Laurie walking away with angels wings is a reference to Amelia and the Angel.

Lions Mouth Ken Russell   Lions Mouth Ken Russell

There is a play within the film (Androcoles and the Lion).

The Citizen Kane type journalism was also used in Valentino.

The funeral scene with the mourners emerging from the darkness, then dancing around the giant phallus


For The Making of Lion´s Mouth click here
For an interview with Diana Laurie click here
For photos click here

Images from the film or from 'making of' photos.  Diana Laurie quotes from interview by Iain Fisher.

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